Obsessive Thinking and How I Thought My Ponytail Would Kill Me
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Obsessive Thinking and How I Thought My Ponytail Would Kill Me


The first time I remember obsessing to the point of nausea was when I was five years old. I was in gymnastics and would wear my hair in a ponytail, a super tight ponytail that would pull my face skin back squinting my eyes. My mom would help with this process while I bossed her around. She’d pull my hair back, wrapping colorful rubber bands around my locks as I yelled, “Make sure there are no bumps, Mom!” I wanted my hair to be as slicked back as an Olympian gymnast. (They have the smoothest and slickest ponytails, and I thought that’s what made them so good at gymnastics. The smoother the ponytail, I thought, the better the flips. Twisted thinking can be applied to any topic when you’re a budding alcoholic.)

My mom was patient enough to redo my hair several times if I complained about it, but there were times where I just had to deal with a tiny bump in the slicked back part of my hair. I would think about that bump on the way to gymnastics practice, during gymnastics practice and all the way until I ripped the rubber bands out of my hair on the car ride home. I would obsess so much about the bump in my ponytail, it would launch me into a negative thought spiral and the pit in my stomach would grow until I felt it was pushing up against my heart. Also, I’d purposely make it worse. I’d touch that bump of hair non-stop with OCD-like tendencies. I’d pat the top of my head and feel the raised lump of hair against my fingers and get real emotional about it. It wasn’t so much about vanity and looking good, it was more about perfection. It’s when I first started caring way too much about something that didn’t matter. 

It would have been nice to get drunk when I was five, right before gymnastics practice. I would have felt so free and confident. I’d be all wasted yelling at my coach, “To be honest with you, I’d rather play basketball because dunking is better than wearing leotards that ride up your butt-crack, but don’t worry coach, I’m not going to quit! My mom is living vicariously through me and she wants me to be good at gymnastics, so that’s what I’m gonna fuckin’ do because I will seek approval until I reach the gates of insanity! Oh, and you see this bump in my ponytail? I don’t care about it!”  Then I’d barf on a springboard.

And then I learned to relax—I mean, drink. When I got older and started drinking, I don’t so much remember feeling relief from obsessive thoughts as I remember getting an overall shift in perspective and a sense of relief. I went from being wound up real tight and caring too much about everything to not caring about anything and feeling real happy and sassy. I remember walking into a bar, feeling nervous about life, and after two drinks I’d laugh at how just an hour before I’d been upset. It was like my drunk self was mocking the person I was before I had drinks. As the years went by and my drinking career prospered, my thinking got worse. There were times in my life where I found myself running to a bar because my mind was so loud and drinking was the only thing that would turn down the nervous voice in my head and turn up the WHO GIVES A FUCK voice.

After six years of sobriety, obsessive thinking and caring too much about stuff that doesn’t matter still inspires negative thought spirals so intense, my nervous system kicks into high gear and I feel like I only have moments to live. I know this sounds very dramatic, but that’s the thing about alcoholic thinking—it’s fucked up. I don’t know how else to say it. I want to be real elegant and clever, and use fancy words, but the honest to God truth is it’s fucked up. Alcoholic thinking is insidious and that’s why we either have to drink until we pass out or find, in sobriety, a daily reprieve, a program or a practice that shifts our mind away from the darkness.

There are days when I can just live my life without drinking and without working a program of recovery. I live my life like a normal person would. I wake up, do some stuff, then go to bed. The only thing I’m doing those days to stay sober is not drinking and it’s “fine.” But, when something happens, or, even worse, when nothing happens but my thinking goes dark and then my mind clings to a negative situation or a person, I can’t think about anything else. It’s like my mind is holding a magnifying glass on something that upsets me, and I’m back to where I was when I was five years old thinking about my messy ponytail. The same 10 horrible thoughts play in my mind over and over and over again. The sick part is, after a certain point, I get comfortable with the misery and decide to stay there. But, eventually, and thankfully, the pain gets so intense, I’m granted the gift of desperation and I get into action. I start calling sober friends, I go to meetings, or I find a way of being of service and the obsession is either lifted or when the thoughts come up again I’m like “Ha ha, you’re a ridiculous thought, do you want a cookie?” I heard being kind to your obsessive thoughts helps—and it does!

I wanted to write about this because I’ve had a very weird, fun, and scary past two months. I traveled a lot, worked on a big project I’m passionate about, spent time with family, engaged in a relationship that I know won’t work and put my sobriety on a shelf. I’d say, over these past eight weeks, I lost my mind at least three times and the only person I have to blame is myself. I was the instigator of the crazy and then I sat in the misery for way too long. So I decided to do a sober experiment. I’ve decided to go to 30 meetings in 30 days and meditate every day. In the six years I’ve been sober, I’ve never put this much work into sobriety and I want to know how it feels. I’m on day seven and honestly I feel fucking wonderful.

If you’re struggling in sobriety and are still addicted to the darkness, I suggest working harder on the stuff you know that works.

PS: My ponytails now are really fucking messy and I don’t even care! I think this means I’m ready to raise a family!

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About Author

Amber Tozer is a stand up comic, writer and actor. She loves being sober even when she hates it. Her memoir, Sober Stick Figure, was published in 2016 by Running Press.